Scene Five leaf

A Memory

I remember writing for fun as a child, and once or twice I showed my work to my father. This was at about age eight. I remember he read it, stopped, and asked, "Where did you get this?" I said I wrote it. He repeated, "No, you must have seen this somewhere before. Where did you get this?" All I could do was to repeat that I wrote it. I stopped sharing my writing with my family.

Much later as an adult MFA student with children of my own, I showed him a poem I wrote about him and the onset of Alzheimers, which later won the 2002 Merton Prize for Poetry of the Sacred. The disease was then in its early stages, but his intellect was as yet, only chipped, not broken. I had to ask, do you like it? Does it make sense? He looked visibly shaken, not much, but enough to notice. This time he asked, "How did you do that? Where did it come from?" This time it was too local, too precise to be anything but my own. My work was finally polished enough for him to assume his next precept about writing, that real writing, the kind in books, comes from the muse. The idea frightened him a bit, possibly because the disease placed his emotions closer to the surface than in earlier years. In his now changed view of my writing, such inspiration was God-breathed, holy in the ancient sense, an artifact that humans should not deign to touch. So, even to the end of his life, he found writing a fearsome thing, treacherous to do, and slippery--something best left to professionals.

I still wonder how many of the students who enter my writing classes have had to wrack their brains searching for where their ideas came from. Often it is from somewhere else and they say so, but every now and then it is new.